Review: The Universe in You: A Microscopic Journey

Size matters in 2022 Caldecott Medalist Jason Chin's The Universe in You, a brilliant companion to his 2020 picture book, Your Place in the Universe. While the latter encouraged young readers to expand their perspectives outward, Chin turns inward here, drawing attention to the microscopic.

Welcome to the Museum of the Desert. A tour is in progress for a group of kids, including a pigtailed child in a red wheelchair who notices a Calliope Hummingbird, the smallest bird in the United States: "At just 8 centimeters long from beak tip to tail, these tiny birds are small enough to fit.../ your hand." The shrinking adventure begins. As Chin's focus zooms in on the child, the objects of their attention become ever smaller as their wonder increases. After the hummingbird is the smallest butterfly (the "smaller than a penny" Western Pygmy Blue), and then the smallest bee (Perdita minima, "about as long as a nickel is thick") which perches next to a vellus hair, the smallest hairs on the child's body.

The journey inward continues to contract through skin cells to nucleus pores, DNA, atoms, protons and, finally, elementary particles that "are the building blocks of all physical matter." Chin then reverses the journey, visualizing how these atoms and molecules combine to make everything: air, water, stars, planets, galaxies... "life itself." While we "are made of the same stuff," we are also extraordinary: "Your particles, atoms, and molecules are arranged into cells that are arranged into tissue and organs that form the body of a unique human being.../ a singular person, who can think and feel and discover.../ the universe within."

Chin cleverly presents a tiered experience that targets at least three levels of audiences. The most elementary reader will follow along on the museum tour, moving from micro to macro and back again. For the next level, Chin provides more detailed notes printed in a smaller font on various page corners--about microns, mitochondria, nanometers, molecules. For the most engaged, Chin's extensive backmatter is an illuminating delight, showcasing four colorful, dense pages of charts, tables, facts and theories. His author's note reveals that his "images of elementary particles are completely invented" because such extraordinarily intricate visuals are impossible to see--for now. His gifted imagination encourages young readers to explore a universe that is continuously sharing secrets. In encouraging inquisitive minds, Chin transforms the impossible into the imaginable. --Terry Hong, Smithsonian BookDragon

Shelf Talker: The outward journey introduced in Caldecott Medalist Jason Chin's Your Place in the Universe turns intimately, intricately inward in this illuminating companion title.

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